Monday, October 03, 2005

It's the Future, Baby, Ready or Not.

Image from a BBCish version of Wiki, h2g2.

Today, I have a lot of collected flotsam to share and a couple shout-outs (hi-hos, big ups, yodelayheehoos) for which I'm grateful.

Thanks, Dr. Sanity, for yesterday's listing in the Carnival of the Insanities.
Thanks, J.D., for today's listing in the Carnival of the Capitalists.

1) I'm still poring through the capitalist goodies, but there was one insanity item that probably rightly belongs in both, a story of human nature misunderstood, an inexcusable failing for a politician whose only demonstrated skill at election is voicing what most people want to hear.

Remember Douglas Adams Hitchhiker's Guide that says Don't Panic in friendly words on the cover, the phrase guaranteed in any serious situation to make you soil yourself in anxiousness? Here's an example from Multiple Mentality about Georgia's governor absolutely positively helping people not to worry about gas supply by telling them all the emergency arrangements to make and proposing school closures (brilliant idea!) to avoid shortages. Result? Oh, you can guess, can't you? As I understand it, most factory workers and hair stylists, doctors and nurses, cooks and store clerks, policemen and firemen, hotel staff and mechanics, florists and shippers (among others) can't telecommute as an option.

2) In a follow up to my post for the Capitalists, Yahoo! has announced its answering salvo to Google's Print Initiative. The Y is working in a consortium called the Open Content Alliance. The difference here is that Yahoo! and its powerful partners are issuing a call for participation, and they will include an author if he or a representative of his work, like the publisher, opts in. Google assumes inclusion unless one opts out which is part of what's causing the kerfuffle.

While the legal organs of authors like this Yahoo! approach, and the article I linked to has positive librarian reaction, I must say that if the Google initiative is allowed to go forward, it has the potential to build an ultimately more useful library if legitimate, deep research is the goal. Yahoo! is vetting their contents and I assume will build a feature-rich and lovely collection of the accepted and acclaimed masterworks in every field. But that's not really where all the great nuggets for future thinkers are buried. Untested hypotheses and unpublicized work, the dusty tomes of little-read journals keep providing, in the context of modern research, inspirations that feed new perspectives. Ideas that were only half-baked, but are now forgotten by heirs and obsolete publishers alike are the planks upon which theses are built. Within the forgotten and barely trafficked (which certainly won't be attentively opted in) are many of the things that scholars adore and find essential about traditional libraries and specialized collections of very, very dead trees.

3) Savvy iPod owner William Bright starts formatting subway maps for free use by other such-equipped commuters at Some transit authorities are so afraid we'll be confused if the maps aren't up-to-the-moment accurate- and of course they've licensed their images for all the graphically subway-related gear we'll all want to purchase- that they've filed the dreaded cease-and-desist. Oh, we modern types haven't learned to cope with the fact that Yahoo! and Mapquest and GPS directions are sometimes not current or incorrect (don't they display accidents and construction projects!?- I confused! Cannot...follow...signs) Some of these bureaus inform us that they're coming out with their own versions of downloadable maps. If you've used local government web applications with their varying degrees of logic, thin interfaces, and paucity of desirable features (yes, implacable NYC transit pdf, I mean you) you'll empathize with my wish they'd leave this guy alone and be happy if his development boosts ridership.

4) In what I find appropriate reactions to the current oil and gas situation, as opposed to harmful, knee-jerk legislative fiats that make things worse and not just in the short-term, airlines are cutting flights and Oklahoma is asking Congress to streamline bureaucracy so they can build a new refinery.

5) I haven't yet decided how I feel about the promised Singularity, Ray Kurzweil's much buzzed and blogged-about moment when human technological progress transcends biology, representing an irrevocable rupture in human history. However, it definitely seems that things like these biological robots that can build themselves and correct their mistakes keep stepping closer toward that horizon.

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